To know your food, sometimes you have to speak the language.
Monoculture n. 1 : the cultivation or growth of a single crop or organism especially on agricultural or forest land
2 : a crop or a population of a single kind of organism grown on land in monoculture
3 : a culture dominated by a single element : a prevailing culture marked by homogeneity
Why it matters: Different crops use varying amounts of nutrients from the soil. They can also replenish the soil, so it was common in the past to rotate crops. Grow corn one year, soy the next, throw in some potatoes, then cycle back. But growing the same crop over and over, corn for example, can deplete the soil of nitrogen. This then necessitates the use of greater amounts of synthetic nitrogen fertilizers, which can eventually contaminate water supply. Growing only one crop also means that one pest could wipe out an entire year’s worth of growth. This in turn means higher use of pesticides to protect the crop.
What to look for: It’s a safe bet that most of the corn ingredients in common packaged foods come from monoculture farms in the US. For other products, the easiest way to know what kind of farming method is being used is to ask. Go to the farmer’s market or call your local CSA and talk to them about how their crops are grown.